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2015-08-20 12:38 am

Lerner, Rose - multiple books

I've been hearing about Rose Lerner for a while, but I didn't particularly enjoy the first book of hers that I read (A Lily Among Thorns), so I didn't try any of her others until now. (I have been marathoning Parks and Recreation and wanted something that felt like the main romance in the show, and suddenly remembered Lerner!)

Her specialties so far seem to be: nice people who genuinely like each other, heroes who are decidedly not jerks, class issues, local life and politics, sibling dynamics, the weight of parental expectations, and protagonists who have a very difficult time knowing and/or expressing what they want because they have sublimated their desires, frequently out of the desire to be nice and get along with society. And the last bit seems very evenly split between the men and the women, which I very much appreciated.

So far, there has been more diversity around the protagonists rather than embodied by the protagonists, but like Courtney Milan, my sense is that she is pushing at a lot of those boundaries. There are secondary characters who are POC and gay and lesbian—I am using these terms as a shortcut, since they don't quite match up with Regency categories/ways of thinking—and her latest hero is Jewish! And it looks like the protagonists of her next book are in the servant class, which is nice.

In for a Penny - Lord Nevinstoke's father dies, leaving his family deep in debt, and thus Nev proposes to Penelope Brown, who comes with a substantial dowry courtesy of her father's success in trade. Together, they attempt to restore his family estate and prevent a peasant uprising! The couple is probably the most traditional in terms of romance norms, and I find them absolutely adorable. It also helps that "socially inept heroine who is good at spreadsheets + hero who is not the best with numbers but great with people" is something that hits rather close to home. The book tends to fall a bit into the "wealthy titled people rescue impoverished workers" thing, and the villain and final conflict feels over-the-top compared to the rest of the story, but I liked it a lot.

A Lily Among Thorns - I bounced off this one the first time because I wanted an icier heroine, but on rereading it and knowing better what to expect, I liked it better. Lady Serena, former courtesan and current innkeeper, wants to help Solomon Hathaway find heirloom earrings, as he's the one who gave her the money to buy herself out years and years ago. And then there are French spies and threats from Serena's father and the plot is a bit over the top still. Solomon the tailor (or rather, master dyer) is very cute, but I didn't fully buy that Serena was able to terrorize the London underworld. Good, but I think it's the weakest of Lerner's work.

Sweet Disorder - Nick Dymond goes to the town of Lively St. Lemeston, where his brother is running for office, in order to convince widow Phoebe Sparks to marry a Whig so that her husband gets her inherited vote. I love that Phoebe is middle class and worries about having to wear the same dress to parties and can't afford mustard. Also, she is fat and the narrative is fine with it, and the hero needs a cane due to wartime injuries. I think this is my favorite of Lerner's books so far, and I particularly love one sex scene that manages to be hot while also advancing characterization AND tying up the hero. Bonus points for many loving descriptions of Regency era sweets.

True Pretenses - Ash and his little brother Rafe are con men, but Rafe wants to get out, so Ash comes up with one last con to get Rafe married to an heiress so she can get her money and Rafe can get money for a commission. Despite his secret hopes that Rafe and Lydia (aforementioned heiress) will fall in love, Ash somehow ends up engaged to her himself. They bond over the difficulty of raising younger siblings while also wanting to give them everything and how conning people and being a gentlewoman call on a similar set of skills. I especially like how being Jewish is integral to the characterization of both Ash and Rafe. On the other hand, I didn't like this as much as I had anticipated because both Ash and Lydia are rather overbearing older siblings and I ended up sympathizing with Rafe a lot. That and I wasn't entirely confident about the happily ever after, not because I didn't like the characters together, but because I still stressed about how Ash's past could still be dug up. Still, I think this is probably Lerner's best and chewiest book to date. Also, I love that Lydia is a Tory while the main characters in the previous book are Whigs and that she doesn't get converted and still doesn't like them.
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2015-08-06 01:40 am

Hardinge, Frances - Verdigris Deep and The Lie Tree

I feel like I have been hearing about Frances Hardinge from my dwircle for quite some time now, and I've finally gotten around to reading her after a reading binge that I blame on [personal profile] skygiants' posts on the Fionavar Tapestry. (I started with The Fionavar Tapestry last weekend and then.. kept reading things! It was great! I think I read more books this past week than I have all year to date!)

Verdigris Deep

Ryan, Chelle and Josh are desperate for bus money one night, and Josh ends up sneaking down a well to grab some of the wishing coins. But then each of them begin developing strange powers (I am still viscerally creeped out by Ryan's), and they find that they have to start granting the wishes tied to the coins they took. And since granting wishes never goes well, things slowly start to go very, very wrong.

I've seen many comparisons of Hardinge with Diana Wynne Jones, and this book in particular feels very much like DWJ--the oddball kids, the way some unlikable characters grow likable and others turn bad, the slowly growing sense of dread and uneasiness. This book was very creepy in that damp fingers down your spine kind of way, which was not what I had been expecting. There's a lot here about what you wish for on the surface and what you actually want, and how you can be trapped in wishes you've outgrown. I also liked that even though Ryan, Chelle and Josh band together because both Ryan and Chelle would have been picked on at school if not for Josh, Hardinge takes time to show what bits are being friends just because there's no one else and how you can kind of be friends with someone and only get to know them better later.

The Lie Tree

So, I thought Verdigris Deep was creepy. The Lie Tree is SO MUCH CREEPIER O_o.

Faith's father is a discredited paleontologist who has taken his family and a secret project to an island to avoid the public eye, but growing a tree that feeds on lies that you spread never turns out well. This is set in the late 19th century, and it manages to make the time period feel just as alien as a built-from-scratch fantasy world. Hardinge makes fossils and the radical idea of evolution feel terrifying and world- and faith-shaking in a way I haven't really encountered before, and there's a matter-of-factness to the Victorian focus on morbidity that makes the entire worldview feel foreign. I went and looked up tons of details on Victorian photography and mourning rituals after this.

I loved Faith, who is clever and angry and not particularly nice, how she despises her mother and desperately wants her father's acknowledgement even though he is a terrible human being. I love that Hardinge doesn't try to file off her edges (or anyone else's, for that matter), and although it's not particularly new to talk about just how circumscribed women's roles were, it's rare to get that visceral feeling of being slowly stifled. Also, bonus points for not magically making Faith believe in evolution and other things we now know are scientifically correct; one of my favorite exchanges consists of one person arguing that something is caused by animal magnetism only to be pooh-poohed for being unscientific, as obviously it is spiritual energy instead.

This is a very, very good book, and I've been deliberately holding off on binging on more of Hardinge so I don't get through all her back catalog too quickly.

Links:


Link me to other write ups! I'm sad I missed the conversations!
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2014-07-02 09:35 pm

Paull, Laline - The Bees

Flora 717 is a lowly sanitation bee, but instead of being mute like the other members of her caste, she can talk and apparently make Flow to feed the larvae in the nursery. The sisters of the Sage clan (the priestess caste) take note and let her work in the nursery for a bit, since the hive is going through rough times and there aren't enough workers. Soon, Flora is experiencing things far outside the lives of the other sanitation bees, and she eventually realizes she is even more different than she realized, for she can lay eggs when it is a crime to challenge the Queen's fertility.

I keep seeing this described as "Watership Down with bees," which mostly seems accurate? Although I find it curious that Watership Down tends to be classified as fantasy while this is slotted under "science fiction" in Amazon, possibly due to the rural setting of the former and the more urban-esque landscape of the hive for this book. I'm also not sure I find it as political as the reviews comparing it to The Handmaid's Tale, possibly because the point of view is so alien in some ways. It's something I'd rather tease apart at a Wiscon panel or in discussion, because while some reviews have been classifying it as dystopic, I don't quite agree. There is too much actual bee biology for it to feel completely dystopic to me, particularly since the book is framed by a prologue and epilogue from the point of view of the humans who own the orchard the beehive is in; it didn't feel so much like it was comparing the human condition to the bee world and more as though Paull were focused primarily on fleshing out the bee world properly. I have to noodle a bit more on this, because I haven't thought it out enough.

She does a great job detailing her particular bee society and making it feel like a complete world, from the way the bees communicate via scent and chemicals to their worship of the queen to the foppishness of the drones. From the bit of browsing I did, it seems like most of the information is fairly accurate, except a spoilery bit in the end and the fact that bee roles are not nearly so harshly delineated irl. (Also, one beekeeper wrote a review in which they felt very put out about the negative depiction of beekeepers as the theives of the bees' carefully made honey. I have to say, I laughed.) I particularly loved the way religion and government are mixed up in the hive, and the look at the various castes and clans.

I did have some nitpicks, because it wasn't always as alien as I wanted it to be; Paull refers to things like bees bleeding or having their intestines torn out, which made me wonder if it were just a figure of speech or...?? Ditto mentions of things like goblets of nectar or plates of pollen. I also thought the prologue and epilogue should have been cut, because I am not here for human context and thoughts! I want weird alien life forms that are actually from this planet!

Anyway, this was a really fast, immersive read, and I still feel like there might be creepy-crawlies on me randomly throughout the day. (For insect-phobic people: I am pretty grossed out by bugs in real life and in pictures, but I'm mostly fine reading about them in books, from fictionalized bees to real-life parasites, so YMMV? I wasn't creeped out while reading, but my skin does start to itch when thinking about it afterward.)

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2014-02-19 04:34 pm

Chauhan, Anuja - Those Pricey Thakur Girls

Many things are happening for the Thakurs of Hailey Road: Justice LN Thakur's brother is having troubles with his wife, said wife has moved in with Justice Thakur and family, three of the five Thakur daughters may or may not be having romantic problems, and the Justice isn't on speaking terms with the third daughter and close to doing to the same with daughter #2.

The main plot of the book mostly focuses on Debjani (the fourth oldest daughter), who has just begun as an anchor at DD, the primary news channel in India at the time. This puts her in conflict with her father's card buddy's son Dylan Shekhawat, an investigative journalist trying to implicate high-up politicians for their role in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and rather looks down on Debjani for spouting government propaganda.

This is my favorite out of all of Anuja Chauhan's books and feels very much like what I've been waiting for. I love that this is in third person POV, compared to the first person of her past two books; I felt I got a much better sense of Debjani's community and the various family dynamics (in two families! that was nice). I did like the romance a lot, especially Dylan, but like her other books, I also really like the non-romance relationships. And my favorite bits were actually the investigative journalism. Another plus was that the Debjani/Dylan relationship got much further before undergoing the usual relationship crisis: families met! And the crisis was in part based on a big misunderstanding, but at least with more of a twist than the usual.

Spoilers )

Other random bits: I REALLY want to know about sister #3. I was kind of confused about Eshwari's maybe romance; at times I thought Chauhan was telegraphing that no, you don't always have to return someone's crush on you, but I wasn't completely sure that was what the book ended on. Also saw that there is a sequel about Dabbu's nephew (by marriage) and niece, which I really want to read. I'm also not talking about various little moments, like Dylan's parents' romantic anniversary or Debjani always being overshadowed by her oldest sister or how the rocky bits of Debjani and Dylan's relationship really affects their families, especially their fathers.

And I very much liked the look at 1980s India, the sense of things changing and bringing with it more access to foreign goods, the changing role of the press and the gradual loss of government control over said press. It feels very real, how the characters all react to some of that without the book just being about social change, which is something that many authors have a difficult time balancing... either it feels like the characters are a bit out of place in the supposed historical setting, or that there is too much "look how much I researched xyz!" Also, some of it is a bit nostalgic for me, particularly things like finding local versions of foreign imported junk food in corner stores or trying to emulate clothes. I don't really remember a lot of the details of political change going on in Taiwan because I was a kid at the time, but a lot of the KMT stronghold on Taiwan was lessening right around me being in high school. And ditto the flood of imported goods and whatnot.

Anyway! I very much enjoyed the Anuja Chauhan book club, and thanks to [personal profile] deepad for organizing the entire thing. And I hope I can get my hands on an ebook, or a US publisher decides to bring her over here or something, because I really want to see grown-up Thakur kids.

(Also, apparently Chauhan wrote a short story prequel to Zoya Factor for Valentine's Day!)
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2014-01-21 02:06 pm

January posting: books

Sorry people with the last few questions for this meme! I have not forgotten you! I have just left the questions till last because I haven't been able to think of stuff.

So, [personal profile] vass asked about books.

This is more a problem of having too much rather than not being able to think of stuff. It's also difficult because I feel like I stopped reading books during grad school and never quite picked it up again, and given how large a role books play in my life, it feels like a quiet betrayal of sorts. I think I stopped tracking everything I read in my database around four years ago, and I stopped writing everything up (or a fairly large percentage) around then as well. In some ways, I miss it, because I love talking about books, especially with people here. But in other ways, it was starting to feel like pressure, and I would catch myself not starting new things because I would then have to log them or write them up, which is not how I want to think about books. Ditto with feeling like I was not reading the "right" thing by defaulting to comfort stuff, which frequently corresponds with white authors for me, or not checking out things that are Very Serious and Weighty.

Some of it was lack of brain to hold so much long-form narrative, especially while in grad school and basically up through last year, which is when I found a meds combination that has been working much better. I still feel like I can't quite cope with that much story, though possibly that is just a kneejerk reflex by now, because I have been dipping into things more and keeping up with TV (okay, Sleepy Hollow, but that's better than the past few years!) as well.

Some is just less time than before; being in a relationship is so time-consuming! Ditto having more friends in the area! And these are good things, and I have been WAY more social than I used to be. And a pretty large part is getting into casual games and a faster payoff.

I don't know! I am conflicted because I do want to read more and talk about books more, but I also have eight billion other things I am trying to do more, and I'm trying to prioritize so my brain doesn't do the giant list of every life goal I have failed to progress on thing.

So I guess that's where I am with books right now.

(On a more physical note, I am now trying to do everything in ebook when possible, as I didn't end up moving any non-graphic-art books out of the condo. I love this! It is especially awesome because my little apartment doesn't have that much room to begin with.)
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2014-01-15 01:40 pm

Reading Wednesday

What I've read: Finished Anuja Chauhan's Those Pricey Thakur Girls! It's by far my favorite of her books, and now I kind of wish there were a version of Battle for Bittora done in rotating 3rd person POV, because I would have LOVED to see Pushpa Pande's sections. Hopefully a longer review to follow soon!

Also finished Chi's Sweet Home volume 2, which is just as cute and full of cat as the first volume. Definitely comfort reading for me, and I laughed especially hard at Chi getting mad at people ignoring her, climbing up on the table, and sitting down on the postcard people were looking at instead of where their attention should rightfully be focused (Chi, obviously).

What I'm reading: I finally started reading comics on my tablet! I say "finally" because that was the original reason I wanted a tablet in the first place. Anyway, I'm in the middle of the Greg Rucka Wonder Woman run (I blame [personal profile] chaila) and generally enjoying it. There are WAY more women than I usually see in superhero comics, though I am super skeeved out by Doctor Psycho and all the rape stuff he jokes about. I mean, you are supposed to be skeeved out, but given that the art is still male-gaze-y, it feels like one of those having your cake and eating it too things.

Also, totally get the appeal of Diana. She reminds me of why I like Captain America, at least in the MCU, and I really like that mostly her idealism and desire to do good and be good are genuine and not made fun of. It's so hard to find depictions of nice and good people who are interesting and have depth; most writers seem to save that for the morally ambiguous characters. And I looooove that she just goes ahead and makes decisions and her staff has to flounder to figure stuff out in her wake, and while she might apologize, she never angsts about it or questions her choices.

The art is mostly okay, given the genre? I think? I've never followed superhero comics closely, so I am not sure. I do love that Diana so far has very consistently been drawn with really broad shoulders and narrow hips; it's a silhouette I don't see very often on women. Still a lot of the twisted torso poses to get T&A in, and I rolled my eyes when one villain stepped out with her face entirely in shadow... but her naked body was of course visible!

It's also always weird getting into a new superhero/team and figuring out who the standard villains and secondary characters are. Various wiki articles help, but because comics is so convoluted, I hit a point when my eyes just glaze over as the details of betrayal! new allegiances! resurrection! secret identity! world resetting! and whatnot go on and on and on.

This is also interesting because it's my first foray into the DCverse that isn't centered around Gotham and its ilk.

What I'm reading next: Probably a lot more Wonder Woman.
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2014-01-08 12:51 pm

Reading Wednesday

What I've read: Haven't done this for a while, so I actually have read things! I got CB the Pusheen the Cat book and volume 1 of Chi's Sweet Home for Christmas, so I read those and was suitably bowled over by the cute. Pusheen is great, but I really love Chi's Sweet Home, which is just so cat. Possibly people might get annoyed by Chi's baby talk, but given that she is a kitten, I am okay with this. Also, CAT!! (Also also, I love the fact that Konami Kanata's entire career is basically cat manga.)

I also read Allie Brosh's book, which I think I laughed at less than a lot of people? It's not that it isn't hilarious, because it is, it's just that after reading her depression posts, some of the ones on procrastination and self sabotage and etc. make me wince more than laugh in that painful, looking-in-the-mirror way. All the entries about her dogs totally crack me up, the entire thing is very worth reading (even if I do wish the one about her dead fish made it to the book), and I would have paid the same price just to get her two posts on depression in print. I'm also really impressed by how spot-on the expressions she draws are.

What I'm reading: I started Anuja Chauhan's Those Pricey Thakur Girls and have been enjoying the third-person narrative voices... I like the first-person narrators of her first two books as well, but they did sound a bit similar at certain points. Really looking forward to an expanded cast of characters, because I love Chauhan most for her various character dynamics, especially of people in small communities and large families, and read her more for that than the romance. I also started Jessica Snyder Sachs' Corpse: Nature, Forensics, and the Struggle to Pinpoint Time of Death as my own brand of pick-me-up reading, and I should get back to it because it's gruesomely fascinating.

Random book-shaped space: This cover alone makes me want to read Max Gladstone. Also hoping that adding "reading" to my Dailies for HabitRPG helps me get back into it.

Next: Chi's Sweet Home, vol. 2!
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2013-12-04 11:39 am

Reading Wednesday

I read!

What have you read? I finished Anuja Chauhan's The Battle for Bittora a few days ago, and I even managed to write it up.

What are you reading? Kind of a cheat, since I actually started it two weeks ago, but I am a chapter or two into Alice Miller's The Drama of the Gifted Child. Despite having been forewarned of the general mother blaming in the book, I am still appalled by how much there is. Yes, let's guilt mothers more for post-partum depression and maybe showing a little bit of negative emotion due to nursing not going perfectly! Also, I seem to think more much has to happen to traumatize a kid than Alice Miller does. (I.e. Being laughed at for asking for your own ice cream cone and being offered bites from the parents' cones probably is not going to have that huge of a psychological impact unless there's already some really emotionally abusive stuff happening.) That said, still has some good bits on what happens when you are the child who must somehow suppress yourself to emotionally comfort your parents. You just have to rewrite a lot in your head so it only applies to emotional abuse and not "mothers making any sort of mistake ever."

What are you reading next? Who knows! Hopefully I will be reading, period.
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2013-12-03 04:17 pm

Chauhan, Anuja - The Battle for Bittora

Another entry for the Anuja Chauhan reading club!

Jinni (formally "Sarojini") Pande is mostly happily working as an animator, though she wishes she could animate something other than bacteria and bugs. And then her formidable grandmother Pushpa Pande sweeps in to announce her return to politics, and before she knows it, Jinni is running for MP in her home region. Complicating things is sexy childhood friend Zain, who is also running, but for the opposing party, as well as scandals, empty campaign promises, bribery, turncoats, electioneering, and all those other good things that come with politics.

I was completely unsurprised to read the author's note in the back and discover that her in-laws are a big family in politics, much as I was unsurprised to find that the author used to be in advertising for The Zoya Factor. They aren't fields I know very much about overall, especially how they work in India, but all the details felt so real, especially the ones that are almost too much to believe in and therefore probably are the bits taken right from real life. I am guessing these are the kinds of books that are even funnier if you actually know the topic, as opposed to the ones that make you roll your eyes because all the details are off? Yes? No?

Anyway, it reminded me most of Taiwan election season, albeit with less acrimony, and I love how Chauhan is totally making fun of the ridiculous things going on while also taking Jinni's idealism and desire to change things seriously, as well as the various issues that Jinni will have to tackle if she's elected.

As pretty much everyone else who has read this has said, the key relationship isn't the Jinni-Zain romance, but rather Jinni's relationship with her larger-than-life grandmother, who is bigoted, wily, unscrupulous, completely unmoveable, and absolutely awesome.

I also loved the overall look at growing up in a political family. At first, I didn't quite buy Jinni just taking off from work to help with a political campaign at the beginning of the book, but after reading about her memories of various campaigns, her grandfather's political legacy, all of her grandmother's work, and her own idealism, it made so much more sense. That said, I did want to see more of Jinni shifting from running just for her grandmother to running for her own sake and for the desire to have the power to make the changes she thought should be made. It's definitely there in the book, from her daring midnight rescue to her observation of how so many politicians made people promises and still the schools weren't fixed, the roads sucked, and the wells got co-opted, but I would have liked that more in the forefront. I also wanted more of Bauji, Jinni's freedom fighter politician grandfather, and her memories of him, as well as the complicated relationship he and her grandmother had, and I especially loved the bits we see of her mother.

I feel like there's an entire novel there as well, being the daughter who abandons the family legacy and takes off only to have your own daughter return to the fold. And it was really refreshing to have Jinni's mother be the NRI living happily in Canada and Jinni herself being the one to return to India, at least when compared to the prevalence of "conflicted identity hyphenated USian teens battling their immigrant parents' expectations" books I've read. (Don't get me wrong, I love it too, especially since that is a big part of my own experience, but it's always nice to have different narratives.)

If you can't already tell, I liked this a lot better than Chauhan's first book, which didn't deviate enough from chick lit tropes for me. Unsurprisingly, the Jinni-Zain romance is actually my least favorite part of the book; I like the childhood memories well enough, and the whole "can I trust him? Is he just messing with me?" back and forth makes a LOT more sense when it comes to your election rival, but Zain kind of loses my interest in comparison to the Pande family dynamics.

Spoilers )

Anyway, definitely recommended, and in case I made it sound serious and unfun, it is hilarious and includes a scene with Jinni putting a condom on a large wooden penis. For politics, of course.

(And I want a book about Munni.)
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2013-10-16 04:31 pm

Reading Wednesday

What I've read: Managed to finish some more awards reading, yay! I have also finally picked up Steam-Powered 1 again after finishing Steam-Powered 2 over the weekend (I need to check to table of contents again to see which stories stood out in particular), and I'm having fun rereading "The Effluent Engine." The biggest downside to Steam-Powered 2 was that the stories often stopped juuust as I had been drawn in. I wish so many of them were the first chapter of books instead of standalone shorts.

What I'm reading: As mentioned, rereading some of the stories in Steam-Powered 1 that I've already read, and then hopefully finishing the anthology.

Random book-shaped space: I am also passive aggressively hoping that my mom decides to leave the tablet here for me to use, because I am too wary to actually ask for it, even though my dad did offer it to me if I wanted. I have weird and conflicting feelings re: accepting stuff from my parents. On the plus side, very excited about the Yuki Kaori and Mizushiro Setona licensing news from NYCC! Amazingly, I may actually be more excited re: Mizushiro, because of the creepy vampires. Also, I am laughing a bit thinking of it in Shojo Beat and how it will possibly traumatize people who start reading it for sexy vampires.
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2013-10-09 10:21 am

Reading Wednesday

What I've read: Finished The Zoya Factor and even managed to write it up! Whoo! Recap of review: romance drags on a little too long, but overall shows potential for the author. Looking forward to getting my hands on her next two books.

I also finished Tenea B. Johnson's R/evolution, which I need to write up with Smoketown. I am really curious as to what she's working on next. I love her prose and her ideas; mostly it feels like the books need to be fleshed out a lot more, R/evolution in particular.

What I'm reading: I started on Rucka's run on Wonder Woman, thanks to [personal profile] chaila's posts, though I haven't gotten too far. It's interesting, because I actually don't know anything about Wonder Woman except for the Amazons background. It's also weird reading superhero comics again. I also read an issue or so of Saga, which seemed cool but was too visually dense to read well on the 7" tablet, as well as an issue or so of the new all-female X-Men title. No real impressions of it, except that I love Storm's hair. /is shallow

What I'm reading next: More Anuja Chauhan when I get the books? Maybe more comics if I grab the tablet again? (My dad wanted me to leave it for my mom so she could try to use it. Ha.)
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2013-10-08 04:00 pm

Chauhan, Anuja - The Zoya Factor

Zoya Singh Solanki was born the exact moment India won the Cricket World Cup in 1983. Her next fateful encounter with cricket happens when she is assigned to work with India's cricket team for a Zing! ad for her agency, and soon, the team begins to win whenever she eats breakfast with them. Before she knows it, she is annoying the handsome captain of the team, getting a free ride to Australia for the World Cup, and being hailed as a cricket goddess by some people.

I don't usually read chick lit all that often because of the frequent focus on things like brand names and shopping, and because while I can deal with annoying gender roles in historical romances, it's much more difficult to brush them aside in contemporary romances. This book does have some of the things that annoy me—Zoya's initial stint in the ad company is obviously very conscious of brands—but it wasn't too bad. Also, you can tell where my priorities lie: I was incredibly annoyed at Nikhil Koda, the love interest, until he and Zoya went to a street market and had food. As Nikhil was a fan of the food, I decided I liked him a lot more.

I thought I would actually be more bored by the cricket than I was, seeing as how I am not a big sports person, but all the snippets from the articles from India and the overall excitement reminded me a lot of being in Asia during South Korea's run in the 2002 World Cup. By the end, I was enjoying the cricket bits more than the romance bits.

Unfortunately, the book is at least 100 pages or so too long; in order to stretch the story out, Chauhan basically has a ton of Not-Too-Big Misunderstandings get in the way of Zoya and Nikhil's happy ending. Zoya had decides to ignore Nikhil based on suspicions from gossip rags, her brother's speculations, her own doubts, and various other things that might have made sense the first two or three times, but have gotten incredibly boring the ninth or so time around.

That said, I do actually like Zoya and Nikhil, and I particularly like Zoya's family and friends. And I laughed so hard at Zoya wondering how on earth monolingual white Australians got by with only one language (what do they do when they are in a different mood?), along with the weirdness of being in a place so full of white people. I so sympathize. And there's just something really fun about Chauhan's narrative voice, from the toinnnnngggg commercial to the two sports announcers and the assorted excerpts from gossip magazines.

Anyway, it's definitely uneven, especially when it comes to the romance, but it felt a lot more familiar than almost all chick lit and/or contemporary romances I read, which is usually split between glamorous big city or small-town (very white) America. So, looking forward to reading her next two books, especially since it sounds like they have plot elements and/or settings that differ even more from standard chick lit/contemporary romance.

Links:
- reviews from the Anuja Chauhan reading club (also, thanks to [personal profile] deepad for setting it up in the first place!)
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2013-09-25 04:14 pm

Reading Wednesday

Not a particularly exciting week in reading, but notable in that I got myself to read and even enjoy it when I wasn't in the mood.

I know! This would have shocked younger me—not in the mood to read?! Blasphemy! Alas, older me has had to deal with an increasingly small attention span, in addition to diminished enjoyment in nearly everything. Things are getting better in terms of both attention span and enjoyment, and this makes me hope the reading will come back as well.

What I've read: I finally finished my nostalgic reread of Terry Brooks' Talismans of Shannara. Ahahaha, oh Par, so boring. On the other hand, Matty Roh is even more awesome than I remembered, and I had completely forgotten about the Matty Roh-Damson Rhee adventures! There should be fic, IJS.

Spoilers )

What I'm reading: I am progressing through Anuja Chauhan's The Zoya Factor, which got a little boring a few chapters in as it introduced the love interest and he and the heroine were antagonistic and etc. However, he is now being much nicer, and there has been a street market, so I am liking it much better again. Also continuing to read Tenea Johnson's Smoketown, which is still gorgeous. I think I opened up Yuki Kaori's Iiki no Ki to show off the Kobo Aura HD's screen to [personal profile] troisroyaumes, but I haven't read much past the first few pages. The art, though, is gorgeous! And already I am afraid it is going to be a version of the Riff/Cain + Merriweather triangle, with another demonic guy, some aristocratic guy, and a cute spunky girl.

Random book-shaped space: I am still trying to figure out what to get with the Kobo 50% off coupon before it expires! Candidates so far: Kate Elliott's Jaran books, some Charlotte Stein novellas the library doesn't have, ???. Maybe the dinosaur book I have been looking at?

In less pleasant news, I deleted Ben A's books from my computer.
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2013-09-18 09:56 am

Reading Wednesday

What I've read: I haven't actually finished anything this week, alas.

What I'm reading: Of course, I have not progressed in anything I was reading last week! Instead, I have started Tenea D. Johnson's Smoketown, and how have I not heard of her? (Okay, possibly because I have been out of the loop for years.) This is one of those books that feels like it was written JUST FOR ME: a city with layers and layers of history still mourning the plague that struck it decades ago, a city that has outlawed birds and now has callers in the dawn to add an approximation of birdsong back into the city soundscape, a man locked away in a tower living through the full-immersion experiences of others via virtu reals, an artist who can bring things to life via drawing and chemistry. It feels so much like Kari Sparring's Living with Ghosts, only much, much kinder to its women. And! Not only does it have all the gorgeous cityscapes that I love, it is populated with brown people! I am only about a third of the way in, and it's a relatively short book, but I fell for the prose from paragraph one and the book has only gotten better since.

What I'm reading next: Hopefully finishing the books I was in the middle of last week, along with this book, and then maybe continuing on to Johnson's R/evolution.
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2013-09-11 12:29 pm

Reading Wednesday

Whoo, I have stuff to post on!

(I have been greatly enjoying everyone's resolve to post every day for a month, and then I feel like I should as well to hopefully clear up book backlog, but the daily happiness posts (opt in here) are already kind of hard and I feel so spammy despite knowing people actually signed up for the filter and knowing that I enjoy seeing other people's posts!)

What I've read: I did more reading for the awards jury I am on, yay.

Aside from that, I went on a completely unexpected detour into the land of reading nostalgia: Terry Brooks. His Shannara books (back then only the original trilogy and Heritage of Shannara) were my introduction to fantasy as a genre; I had read a lot of middle grade stuff of course, but I wanted something just like Tolkien after my headlong fall into Middle Earth, and Shannara was right there. Anyway, I reread The Elfstones of Shannara and The Elf Queen of Shannara, and then did a mostly-skipping-Par's-POV reread of The Scions of Shannara.

They held up better than expected? But I also wasn't expecting much. There's the argh of the Rovers, which fit all the Roma stereotypes, way too many bland young men wandering about, and the world building is pretty sparse in terms of cultures and extremely high fantasy derivative. On the other hand, I remember so much more of them than I had expected, even specific chapters and lines I had liked. I am amused that even back in sixth or seventh grade, I was completely bored by the typical young white male savior figure (Par, Shea, Wil, Jair) and very much into the women or the older, more cynical men who weren't such blank slates. Alas for the lack of older, cynical women. And that the Frodo-and-Sam journey parts of the narrative never interested me nearly as much as the epic battle and war strategy bits. The women aren't the best—too many love interests inexplicably interested in the boring main characters, too many "too good for this world" women—but I remember liking things like Eretria helping out Amberle and especially Wren's relationship with her grandmother in Elf Queen. (Also, Eowen Cerise/Ellenroh, slashy like whoa.)

Anyway, definitely not something I'd rec, but it was an enjoyable dalliance! (Also, I totally wanted to be a Druid.)

What I'm reading: I tried starting a novel for awards reading (mostly I have been doing short stories, since they are so fast); hopefully I will stick with it. I also started Anuja Chauhan's The Zoya Factor per [personal profile] deepad's impromptu Anuja Chauhan book club. Not very far into it yet, but the voice is very breezy and enjoyable. Also, Shah Rukh Khan's abs have already made an appearance, which is never a bad thing imo.

What I'm reading next: More of The Zoya Factor and more awards reading, hopefully! Though I will probably end up doing the no-Par-POV reread of Heritage of Shannara....
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2013-08-28 01:31 pm

Reading Wednesday

Woe, it's been a while since I've had a Reading Wednesday post.

What I've read: I thought I had already made a post about reading Meljean Brook's Guardian Demon, but apparently not! Anyway, I'm hoping to write this one up in more detail. Like many of the other books in the Guardian series, I don't completely buy the romance and the plot doesn't always make sense, but somehow the books are greater than the sum of their parts. Possibly it's Brook's clear affection for worldbuilding along with romance. And of course, after I finished, I went on to reread bits and pieces of various other Guardian books.

I did not read for another week or so after that, but then I got the Kobo Aura HD, and I have now resumed reading 7 Seeds (currently in the middle of volume 14? 13?). It continues to be awesome, and I am especially glad to see certain characters reappearing.

I also caught up on the latest Skip Beat chapters! I think I am withholding judgement until I see what happens next. Also, the translation for some of them is terrible.

And I skimmed The Mammoth Book of Hot Romance, most of which I cannot remember, save the Victoria Janssen short story that I liked a lot. POC hero AND heroine! And a relatively unused romance time period (for the genre, not for the author) with a lot of period detail.

What I'm reading now: Finally found my places again in Spillover and Feed after uploading them to the new ereader, but I haven't made much progress in either. Also in the middle of a 7 Seeds volume. Also I am a few pages into Samit Basu's Gameworld trilogy book 1, but I don't count that as officially reading it yet.

Random book-shaped space: I miss reading manga! Being able to do it on the ereader is awesome, and the new one's larger screen makes them so much more legible. Anyway, I got Silver Spoon and Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou to read, but I feel like I'm completely behind on stuff, especially shoujo manga. Any good new shoujo series around?

... also, I should grab whatever Yuki Kaori is working on now.
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2013-07-31 11:09 am

Reading Wednesday

What I've read: Woe, didn't manage to finish anything this week. At least it was mostly because I was being social!

I did forget to note that I read Sampson Davis' Living and Dying in Brick City: An E.R. Doctor Returns Home. I really wanted to read about the medical cases intermixed with personal knowledge of the intersections of health and race and poverty. In the end, the book was too didactic for me. Each chapter is about a specific thing (HIV, obesity, drugs, history of medical experiments on black people, etc.), and each ends with a list of resources. I'm sure it is helpful for people, but I wanted something much more complicated than an introduction to the myriad problems of the US healthcare system and/or personal health issues and what to do about them. I was especially put off by the PSA on obesity, where he focuses on a woman he portrays as grotesquely obese (examples of how she can't be strapped to the gurney, fungus growing in folds of flesh, etc.). This is too bad, because the bits on his own life and history in Newark and how they intersect with his doctoring were really interesting, especially since he was one of the few doctors there who had grown up in and still lived in Newark, as opposed to commuting there from another, more affluent town.

I also forgot to mention Carolyn Jewel's novella Moonlight last week. It unfortunately is not particularly notable. There is some emotional stuff going on there re: a younger man in love with the slightly older women he grew up with and trying to not be seen as a goofy younger brother, but most of it focuses on the sex without tying it in to the conflict.

And I forgot Courtney Milan's A Kiss for Midwinter. Wow, I read a lot the week before. Anyway, I don't dislike it to the same extent [personal profile] coffeeandink does, but the noted discrepancy between what people say about Lydia's cheerful disposition and what we actually read on the page is very disconcerting. I also thought Jonas never quite gelled as a character to me; he read more as a collection of traits—blunt and socially awkward doctor who shows compassion to underserved populations—than an actual person. Definitely not one of Milan's better works.

What I'm reading: I still haven't finished Spillover. So of course I started Mira Grant's Feed, which is one of those "everyone was talking about it when it came out and I am only now getting around to reading it" books. So far, it is entertaining and easy to read—too easy, given how I lost track of time at bedtime! I'm not terribly caught up in the characters yet; they are very snarky and capable, but there's no real emotional hook for me to grab on to. Also, it is interesting reading this in 2013 when the presumed zombie apocalypse is in 2014 (the book was published in 2010). I'm not sure I would have fully bought into Grant's projection of how blogging grows increasingly important even back then, but now it's even odder to compare to what has actually been happening.

What I'm reading next: Er, hopefully Hiromi Goto's Half World, because I keep meaning to read it and then forgetting that I do when it comes time to select a book.
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2013-07-22 10:09 am

Lin, Grace - Starry River of the Sky

This is a companion book to Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and is very similar to the previous book in terms of retold tales and storytelling as a conceit within the book. I don't remember Where the Mountain Meets the Moon well enough to figure out if there are any direct connections, although given the retold stories, I wouldn't be surprised if there were mythological figures in common.

Rendi is running away from home, and he ends up working at an inn in the Village of Clear Sky. There are several interesting guests whose true identities are slowly revealed, local grudges, and the mystery of why the moon has disappeared from the sky.

I was less interested in this in the beginning compared to Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, probably because I wasn't as sympathetic to Rendi, but I was still charmed as all the story threads started to merge and fold in on each other. I guessed most of the twists well beforehand, partly due to the book being aimed at a much younger audience and partly due to being familiar with the mythologies in question. As with the previous book, I'd love some sort of DVD-style commentary on specific changes Lin made to various stories; I caught a few, but probably nowhere near all of them.

Slight spoilers )

As previously mentioned, I wish I had the physical book for this; the ebook has all the illustrations, but Where the Mountain Meets the Moon was so gorgeous that I would like this one for my shelves as well.

I am also tempted to reread Where the Mountain Meets the Moon to see how that book's mountain and moon mystery compares to this one.

And as a minor note, once I realized one character's identity, I wondered if it should be obvious to the people in the book due to his name (as opposed to the reader, who can't see the hanzi used). I will handwave and say that he used a character that sounds the same but is written differently.

Anyway, this is charming and relaxing.
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2013-07-17 09:46 am

Reading Wednesday

OMG I read stuff! I suspect this is largely because I am out of playable content on Here Be Monsters and have run out of suitably addicting puzzles on my phone.

What I've read: I finished the new Cecilia Grant, A Woman Entangled, and even managed to write it up. Overall, it has a lot of the things I've been liking about Grant's books so far: lack of noblepeople, believable conflict, an awareness of money, and things that aren't resolved too neatly. I think my favorite of hers so far is still her second book, but I do like this one for the hero and heroine's desire to climb up socially, which isn't condemned.

I also finished (two books! I finished two books yay!) Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald's Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People, which I will hopefully write up in more depth. Anyway, Greenwald was the person who developed the Implicit Association Test (IAT), and since then, he and Banaji have conducted many experiments on unconscious prejudice and biases. As the subtitle indicates, Banaji and Greenwald are very careful to not assign blame or motive, which would probably make this very good for 101 stuff. Anyway, it's a quick read in plain and simple language, and after taking (and retaking) some IATs, it's interesting to see what's changed with me since 2006.

AND I finished Courtney Milan's novella, The Lady Always Wins. Like most of Milan's books, the hero and heroine actually talk to each other instead of the hero going through with his planned deception, but it felt like the denouement of one of her novels rather than a complete work in itself. There's not quite enough in the beginning to make the bulk of the payoff worth it, imo. Then again, that's how I feel about most romance novellas—there's either not enough set up or not enough payoff.

What I'm reading: I, er, of course haven't continued anything I was in the middle of last week. Instead, I started Bee Wilson's Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat, which is exactly what the title says, if by "we" the author actually means "people like her and not me." In other words, it's the standard "A History of Everything!" that follows a (primarily Western) European history through to the US, with bits and pieces of other cultures thrown in every so often to look diverse. I sound more bitter than I am; I am mostly used to this and pretty much expected it going in, given the title.

I'm also in the middle of Meljean Brook's Iron Seas novella Salvage. Unfortunately, the Iron Seas novellas overall have not been very satisfactory, and this one is no exception. At least there's no eyebrow-raising consent scenarios, unlike some of the others, but the central conflict is a Big Misunderstanding that could have been cleared up if the hero and heroine had actually bothered to sit down and talk for five minutes instead of running off on an assumption based off a single sentence. My eyes roll forever. Spoilers? For the assumption at least )

What I'm reading next: Uh. Hopefully a book.
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2013-07-15 04:19 pm

Grant, Cecilia - A Woman Entangled

Yay, I finished a book! Boo, I stayed up way to late to do it!

Kate Westbrook is relying on her stunning beauty to marry someone titled to lift her family and herself into the class they should have been in all along, had her father not married her actress mother and gotten disowned.

Meanwhile, in other family scandals, Nick Blackshear's brother ran off and married a Cyprian in A Gentleman Undone, and since then, Nick the barrister has seen a drop in clients and a similar decline of his social ambitions to become a politician.

When Kate manages to secure a few party invitations, she's sure she finally has the chance to achieve all her dreams. Her father asks his protege and family friend Nick to keep an eye on her, and naturally, the two are drawn to each other, despite both knowing that they are completely wrong for each other.

I like Grant for giving her characters dilemmas that aren't easily resolved by the end of the book: Will and Lydia's happy ending in book 2 doesn't magically make everyone accept them, and here, both Nick and Kate have to make a hard decision about how far they are willing to go to achieve their dreams and ambitions. The parts I like best are actually the ones in which Kate and Nick are talking (often to each other) about their ambitions, or watching how much they will bend their ethics for their goals.

I wasn't entirely convinced by the sudden onslaught of sexy times, particularly near the end, and I think the denouement was too fast. That said, I very much liked that the two were believable as friends. I also appreciate Grant including several female characters, and for the gentle poking at Kate's sister Viola and her strident feminist ways without making her into a Straw Feminist.

Enjoyable, if not as gripping as the second Blackshear book.